Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Bite: A Vampire Handbook – review

Author Kevin Jackson

First Published: 2009

The Blurb: One bite and you’ll have the taste for blood.

Arm yourself with garlic, stake and crucifix, for the vampires are back in force – at the top of the bestseller lists, on your TV, on the web and lurking in darkened cinemas. But, where did they come from? Why have they come back now? And how can you tell if you are one?

Beginning with the first sightings of bats and blood-sucking in the Romantic period, BITE follows the undead’s progress through the ages, right up to the twilit present. Alongside gory anecdotes, potted histories facts and figures, each section is punctuated by lists such as the best places around the world for vamp tourism; the box-office top ten films with fangs; famous vampire manifestations in books, comics, ballets and breakfast cereals; as well as the most reliable methods for vampire detection and disposal…

The review: Okay, if we cut through the sensationalist blurb, this is actually a nicely put together – if a little lightweight – book that offers a potted history of the Undead, really beginning with the Byronic vampire as offered to the world via Polidori and wandering through to Twilight. It also looks briefly at vampire myths from around the world, which was a nice little section.

I said it was lightweight and given the 192 pages from introduction to acknowledgments this is almost a given. The book offers almost a beginners guide to vampires. Jackson does offer an index, which is useful and sometimes all too absent in such volumes. However he does not particularly offer sources and this, as always, is a shame.

That said the style is very personable, with a nice level of sarcasm at times, when talking about Freudian interpretation of the vampire myth he observes that they “begin with the classic vampire attack: a man enters the bed chamber of a young, usually comely woman; he penetrates her body; fluids are exchanged. Aha! There is something sexual about this! Gosh, do you think so?” Such observations make the book rather readable but are symptomatic, also, of a book that is as much opinionated as factual – nothing wrong with that so long as it is clear that it is the case, and it is.

Sometimes things go astray. For instance, when talking about the Hammer Films, specifically the Dracula ones, his more detailed précis misses out Brides of Dracula and Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires from the Dracula cycle. I would have them in as part of the Dracula cycle but I understand why he did not – perhaps he should have explained that to a reader less versed in the films.

Worse, of course, is when things go factually wrong. If you read this Mr Jackson, then for your errata sheet, in respect of page 115, the Hammer Karnstein series are not based on the figure of Báthory but on Le Fanu’s Carmilla. Be that as it may, errors are not frequent (that was the only really glaring one) and the book does meander into some interesting directions as it lightly explores the genre.

I did not necessarily agree with Jackson’s opinion – especially his views on some films – but I enjoyed reading his opinion. However, I think the final conclusion was skewed when he postulated that Edward (from Twilight) was like a Byronic Hero – thus the genre had come full circle. That, I am afraid, is far from the case in my humble opinion. A Byronic hero (if there is such a thing) would not abstain – indeed excess would be a watchword. I say if there is such a thing for they are much more likely, if not a villain, to be an anti-hero (if they are Byronic); at best capricious (Varney at times) and most likely destructive of all around them for their own hedonistic pleasure (Ruthven). Perhaps Lestat and Spike came close to the Byronic anti-hero, but Edward is far too tame, too restrained and definitely too moral. But, then again, that is just my opinion.

Lightweight, but easily read, with an amusing lilt. This is a good entry level book (so long as the reader takes opinion as such), though for the more well versed explorer of the genre it perhaps offers a little less substance but does take us on some rather interesting paths. 6 out of 10.

Finally, my thanks to Ian, from whom I received the volume as a gift.


Ian said...

You are most welcome mate. Pity it isn't of more substance. Strange that the author was touted on the BBC as a 'vampire expert' when they discussed the New Moon release.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Ian, he describes himself (or should I say his bio describes him) as a polymath with a long standing love of vampires.

All in all he does know more about the genre than the average Joe on the street and clearly he has watched some of the V movies and read some of the books as he has opinion on them - for the BBC, who will have got his details as part of the touting of this volume by the publishers, that will be enough to class him as expert.